Clause 34

Climate Change Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 3rd July 2008.

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Advice in connection with carbon budgets

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment No. 19

Government amendment No. 20

Government new clause 3—Advice of Committee on Climate Change on impact report.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

As has been noted, we believe an adaptation sub-committee of the Climate Change Committee would have a useful role, but we think that it should be a more technical one in line with the rest of the work of the committee.

The committee’s role on adaptation should be consistent with its work on mitigation; that is, it should involve technical advice and analysis, and scrutiny of progress. That means that it should provide technical advice to the Government and the devolved Administrations on the risk assessment, and progress reports to Parliament about the Government’s adaptation programme.

The other place agreed that the committee should not be a policy-making body. Many sensitive decisions will have to be taken in order for us to reduce our emissions and adapt to climate change. They properly should be taken by elected representatives in Parliament and in the Government. The committee will have a vital role in  providing impartial advice and scrutiny, but we do not think it appropriate for an unelected body to make, or be seen to be making, policies. The individual decisions that will directly affect families, communities and businesses should be made by Parliament and the Government.

With that in mind, Government amendments Nos. 12, 19 and 20 delete the current roles of the sub-committee, and Government new clause 3 gives new functions to the main committee. The new clause sets out the first new function that we are giving to the committee, which is to give advice on the risk assessment required in clause 55. Expert input to the risk assessment will help to strengthen the evidence base that will underpin the Government’s adaptation programme. Independent review will add to the transparency of the assessment and, therefore, the basis upon which the programme is built.

The committee’s role will be to provide expert advice on the preparation of the risk assessment to ensure that it is as robust as possible. That is wholly in line with the committee’s wider role, which is highly technocratic and focused on specialist advice on carbon budgets. With the committee advising on the risk assessment, we do not see the need for specific provision to be made giving the Environmental Audit Committee an additional role in this area. For that reason, we tabled Government amendment No. 20, which would remove the duty currently in the Bill requiring the Government to invite the EAC to review the risk assessment. The EAC will still be free to look at the adaptation work, or any other area of work, should it chose to do so. Indeed, it has already considered adaptation as part of its work on climate change and local and regional government.

For the Government to ask a parliamentary Committee to consider a particular piece of work would be an anomaly in the Bill because it could be seen to interfere with the EAC’s independence. We expect that the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, together with the likelihood of further parliamentary scrutiny, will ensure that the risk assessment is robust and transparent. We also hope that adaptation will be considered—I am sure it will be—by a wider range of parliamentary Committees, because clearly it is not simply an environmental issue, but one that will cut across all aspects of the economy and society. If we receive advice, we will be sure to make use of it, which is why we tabled Government amendment No. 19, which ensures that the Government must consider the advice of the Committee on Climate Change before laying the national climate change risk assessment before Parliament.

In conclusion, the advice on the risk assessment from the adaptation sub-committee will add value to the Government’s adaptation work and complement the committee’s wider work. It would be inappropriate for the Government to have to invite a parliamentary Committee to review its work, as the decision on whether to review should be a matter for that Committee itself.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

This is a complex and intertwined group of amendments, and it would be beneficial to seek clarification from the Minister on a few points. As the Bill stands, the Committee on Climate Change has reporting duties to Parliament on the Government’s progress on adaptation and mitigation. However, the Government’s amendments will remove the committee’s reporting duties on progress towards adaptation, which means that there would be no requirement on the  adaptation sub-committee to scrutinise Government performance and to report to Parliament on its findings. If I have interpreted the proposal correctly, I find it worrying, and would appreciate assurances from the Minister that the role of the independent committee is not being watered down.

Under the amendments, the adaptation sub-committee will have a far more nebulous role in adaptation scrutiny reporting, particularly when compared with the clear scrutiny functions of the Committee on Climate Change itself on mitigation.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

We will come on to the progress reporting function in the next group of amendments, which is why I did not deal with that before.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I accept the Minister’s point, so I shall withhold further comments on that until we get to later amendments. Will she explain why the Government have proposed what seems to be a more muted role for the adaptation sub-committee, and how she envisages the sub-committee adding value to the Government’s work, if it does not have any powers or obligations on formal scrutiny and reporting on the progress to the Government?

I was not fully persuaded by the Minister’s explanation why, under amendment No. 20, the Government want to remove the duty on the Secretary of State to invite the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee to review every report on adaptation that is laid before Parliament. I am sure the Committee will be interested in the views of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North before reaching a decision about that. I hope she will give us the benefit of her thoughts and those of her fellow Committee members.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 10:15 am, 3rd July 2008

I have been tempted to intervene on the hon. Gentleman, who is well versed in the work of the EAC. Select Committees play an important role, and I should like him to comment on what the Minister has said, because it put the work of Select Committees in a wider context. The purpose of the EAC is to look at all Government policies across the piece, but I am also aware that other Select Committees have an interest in such matters and therefore consider that there is much worth in the Government’s amendments.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That was a helpful intervention, and many people who might have been worried by the wording of the amendments will take comfort from it. The hon. Lady is known for her significant input into the EAC and the valuable work that she and the Committee do. If she is comfortable with the amendments, it makes me much more comfortable, too. They are slightly complex, but not controversial, so I accept the Minister’s reassurances about them.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not sure whether I am quite so reassured as the hon. Gentleman, so I shall seek a little more reassurance.

The group of amendments is slightly odd. It covers two different sections of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 and new clause 3 relate to impact and risk assessment, but only amendment No. 12 deals specifically  with the adaptation sub-committee’s remit to provide expert advice and, as I understand it, that is being deleted and not reinserted into the Bill under any other clause.

When referring to adaptation, we are talking not about hypothetical targets in decades to come that are conveniently distant from the current political debate, but about the action that is required now. I take the Minister’s point that the adaptation sub-committee should not be a policy-making body in the sense that it should take powers away from Ministers or Parliament, but nothing in the clause suggests that. The reference is to expert advice. That could be relevant to the flood risk management budget and whether, in technical terms, the amount being spent by the Government is sufficient to keep ahead of the impacts of flood risk.

The committee could cover health and whether the NHS has the right technical planning in place to cope with new diseases that arise as a result of climate change and that did not previously reach people in this country and latitudes, or whether there is enough technical planning for heat waves of the sort that hit the continent only a few years ago. It could examine transport infrastructure and whether it can cope with not only the right sort of snow, but the right flood water, the right heat and the other possible impacts. They would be very technical matters.

With such a report, the temptation for the relevant Departments—which, again, will not be the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health—to be derailed into short-term political considerations will be huge. Subsection (5), which amendment No. 12 would delete, is an important counterweight to that short-termism. It will provide independent, expert advice based on scientific and technical knowledge—not policy, as the Minister suggested—and it is bizarre that the Government accept the need for an adaptation sub-committee, yet run scared from seeking its full-blooded advice.

Amendment No. 20 would remove the provision in respect of the EAC. The EAC considered the Bill and was quite happy to have the duty laid upon it, so I do not see the logic for removing it. We can probably assume that the EAC or its successor Committee would, almost automatically, want to scrutinise such reports and measures, but proactively to take this provision out of the Bill sends a rather strange signal that could be misinterpreted.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

As a member of the EAC, does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the Committee has that role in any case by virtue of its status in Parliament?

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I accept what the hon. Lady says, but that is a voluntary responsibility to be interpreted by the Committee. The provision would be a more stringent condition that might, in the end, have the same effect—I accept that—but I am more concerned about the signal that its removal would send; it might be interpreted wrongly as the Government’s seeking to wriggle out of the glare of proper scrutiny. I do not see the need for it to be removed in that way.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

The comments made by the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle and for Cheltenham show that there is a degree of confusion. It is clear that the Government are certainly not trying to avoid scrutiny, because we have tabled new clause 3 this morning, which says:

“It is the duty of the Committee on Climate Change to advise the Secretary of State on the preparation of each of the Secretary of State’s reports under section 55.”

Of course, that relates to the impact assessment. So it is clear that we are giving new duties to the Climate Change Committee—along with the work being done by the sub-committee—which will report to the Government in advance of their presenting their risk assessments. It is clear we are giving the Committee that role to give specific technical advice, which it is experienced in preparing, in advance of the Government’s producing their risk assessment report.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

New clause 3 relates to impact and risk assessment. Pages 25 and 26 of the Bill contain two separate clauses with two logically separate areas of advice: clause 55 deals with impact and risk assessment and clause 56 is on adaptation under the Secretary of State’s programme. The technical advice on impact assessment is contained in clause 34(5), which would be deleted by amendment No. 12 and is not reinserted by new clause 3 or any other Government amendment.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

The hon. Gentleman needs to wait until we move to the next group of amendments. The role that we are giving to the Climate Change Committee is clear, from the advice stated in new clause 3, and I can add nothing to what I have said.

On amendment No. 20, again, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that a signal could be given. It is clear to us that saying that one Select Committee should have the role weakens scrutiny. We have given the scrutiny role to the Climate Change Committee, which will be advising on the risk assessment. We are more than aware that the EAC makes its own decisions and will continue to do so, as will other Select Committees. That is the proper role of a Select Committee in Parliament.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry to press the Minister on this matter, but we are discussing new clause 3 now, in this group of amendments, and nowhere does it mention adaptation.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

The risk assessment is clearly the precursor of any programme for adaptation. The Climate Change Committee is being given this duty to advise on the risk assessments that the Government are preparing.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry to press the Minister further, but why, in that case, do we have separate clauses: one for impact and risk assessment and another—clause 56—for adaptation? They are not the same.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste)

I am looking to see whether I may receive some advice on this matter. Our amendments, including our new clause, are clear to me. Clause 55 is in part 4, which is called “Impact of and adaptation to climate change”.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.